Gary Graham dedication, Aug. 29, 2019
After serving five terms as mayor of O’Fallon, Gary L. Graham stepped down at his last city council meeting — his 549th city meeting — on April 17, 2017.
The longest serving mayor ever may be gone but not forgotten, for the city recently dedicated the soccer field known as the Championship Soccer Field at the O’Fallon Family Sports Park in his honor.
Graham was succeeded May 1, 2017, by Herb Roach, a six-year alderman. Roach said the evening was a beautiful dedication.
“It was appropriate that the championship field is being named in his honor because he was the champion of this project over the years. With the hard work of our very good parks staff, they took Gary’s idea and built it into one of the best sports venues in the region,” Roach said.
Mary Jeanne Hutchison, director of O’Fallon Parks and Recreation, estimated about half a million people use the O’Fallon Sports Park a year.
“It’s pretty fabulous. It’s pretty much booked all the time,” she said.
Besides the local players, there are contract players, their families and then walkers and others who use the park, she said. There are soccer, recreation and traveling leagues, and then there is the Kixx program, in addition to baseball and softball leagues.
“Mayor Graham was a forward thinker. He thought about things for the city 20, 30, 40 years down the road,” Hutchison said. “It was a really great event, recognizing him for some of the things he had done. Very moving.”
The council approved dedicating soccer field No. 2 in his honor, but the Parks and Recreation Foundation paid for the sign.
“It’s a really cool sign. The Fource Group and the Parks and Recreation Foundation celebrated all the good things that Graham had done for the city as mayor at a fund-raising event, and then used those funds for the sign,” Hutchison said.
The Destination: O’Fallon proposal approved in 2016 had three park components, Hutchison explained. They built seven artificial turf soccer fields, put lights in, added parking and remodeled restrooms, and then put artificial turf baseball fields in and a softball field. Then there was the addition of the downtown pavilion, O’Fallon Station, with the introduction of the Vine Street Market this spring.
“It’s doing better than we anticipated, thanks to Sarah (Burton) and her staff,” she said. “Most cities, it takes years and years to get that kind of a crowd.”
As for the sports activities, they are having an economic impact that will be studied this winter.
“People come to the fields and then they stay and eat, do other things. With the activities in full swing after Labor Day, it really is an awesome thing. The bar keeps being raised,” Hutchison said.
Roach said the city wanted to acknowledge Graham in some way after he retired.
“Mayor Graham had a profound impact on this community during his 20 years as mayor. We wanted to say thank you for all his hard work,” Roach said. “We had a beautiful evening to honor Mayor Graham for his commitment and leadership in the development of the O’Fallon Family Sports Park.
“It was attended by over 40 individuals. A portion of the O’Fallon Township High School Band played for about 15 minutes prior to the ceremony.”
Roach said the sports park was a project that was over 10 years in the making and is still being worked on.
“Just last year we added a new baseball and softball field,” he said.
Graham a fixture in O’Fallon
In addition to serving as mayor for more than 20 years, Graham served on the board of directors of the Illinois Municipal League beginning in 2003 and became the president in 2008.
Graham has always listed the city’s most valuable assets — great schools, police force, a professional staff he was very proud of, and citizens who take an active interest in the community. But he has not taken credit for his part in moving O’Fallon forward.
Now his name is permanently part of the Family Sports Park that he worked so hard to make happen.